One week from Wednesday, the Orioles will begin the two-day, six-pick sprint of the 2020 MLB draft, executing one of the only meaningful aspects of this incredibly unique year by adding another batch, however small, of amateur talent.
With the second overall pick behind the Detroit Tigers in the draft that begins Wednesday, the Orioles will get another premium prospect to add to their improving farm system, with the potential for more later in the draft.
No team will say that it’s completely decided on who to pick at this stage, as they’re still sorting through candidates. After all, even the Orioles didn’t announce their plans last year with no-doubt No. 1 pick Adley Rutschman.
There seems to be a consensus, however, about who the best players are. Detroit will take one. Here’s a breakdown of who could be there at No. 2 for the Orioles:
Spencer Torkelson, 1B, Arizona State
When the Orioles took Rutschman last year, despite the risk that catcher is a tough position to stick at long term, the understanding was that he’d hit enough to make his potentially elite bat play anywhere. Knowing that, the Orioles surely won’t look at a first base-only type such as Torkelson as diminished in any way because of where he plays on the field. What matters is what he does in the batter’s box.
Torkelson has the potential to be a prodigious power bat at either first base or a corner outfield spot. He batted .320 with a 1.182 OPS and 25 home runs as a freshman at Arizona State and .351 with a 1.153 OPS and 23 home runs as a sophomore. He hit six home runs in 17 games this year before things shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Tigers went with no-doubt pitcher Casey Mize with their top pick two years ago, so it wouldn’t be surprising if they went that route again.
Austin Martin, IF, Vanderbilt
Many prognostications have the Orioles snagging Martin with the second overall pick. He’s got the potential to do everything well, hitting for average and getting on base in his freshman year before exploding to hit .392 with a 1.091 OPS and 10 home runs as a sophomore. Defensively, he didn’t get the chance to play shortstop this year that many expected after he spent previous seasons at third base and center field. That kind of versatility is valuable, though, and if the Orioles believe that Martin’s bat is impressive enough to play anywhere and that he can be the kind of do-it-all weapon he projects to be, this would be the pick.
Nick Gonzales, SS, New Mexico State
A lot of the caveats that come with all of these prospects can be overcome, but none more easily than the ones that might arise with Gonzales, because he can flat-out hit. Even at a smaller school, where the ball flies a little more, his career .399/.502/.747 slash line with 37 home runs in three seasons shows an ability to find a barrel. It didn’t diminish when he went to the Cape Cod Baseball League last summer and hit .351 with wood bats. Gonzales spent two years at second base before getting to play shortstop in 14 games this year, with the Orioles’ well-regarded fourth-round pick Joseph Ortiz playing shortstop before that. They likely got plenty of looks at Gonzales while checking Ortiz out.
If the Orioles strip out all of the non-hitting variables and Torkelson is gone, they might not find a better bat in the draft to pair in the middle of their future lineup with Rutschman.
Asa Lacy, LHP, Texas A&M
Many of the draft’s top players simply held their own during the abbreviated college season, but Lacy helped himself the most among the top tier. He was coming off a breakout year at Texas A&M with a 2.13 ERA and 130 strikeouts in 88⅔ innings, but unveiled a new slider as part of his four-pitch mix this spring and had a 0.75 ERA with 46 strikeouts in 24 innings over four starts.
Pairing a dominant college pitcher with the Orioles’ future rotation duo of former top picks DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez would be formidable. The braintrust running the show, however, has been burned by pitching at the top of the draft a few times when they were with the Houston Astros. The Orioles front office seems to be able to better identify value on the pitching side without using this much draft capital. It would be a clear departure from that to take a pitcher second overall, but it could happen.
Zac Veen, OF, Spruce Creek (Florida) HS
A high school bat at this point would be a bit far afield for the Orioles, but they made sure they did what they could scouting Veen, who is in a group with Robert Hassell III and Austin Hendrick as the best prep players in the country. Veen is committed to the University of Florida, but his combination of power and patience make him a prime candidate to be picked early in next week’s draft.
It’s worth noting that while there weren’t many opportunities for in-person looks, Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias made a trip north from the team’s spring training home of Sarasota, Florida, to watch Veen play in February before things shut down. Such in-person looks are common under normal circumstances, and one certainly won’t dramatically change how a player is rated in the Orioles’ system. But Veen has certainly been on the radar.
Emerson Hancock, RHP, Georgia
Hancock was alone at one point in the top tier of college pitchers that he now shares with Lacy, Minnesota’s Max Meyer and Louisville’s Reid Detmers, thanks to a 1.99 ERA and 0.84 WHIP as a sophomore for the Bulldogs. Scouts like his delivery and command of his four-pitch mix, with a fastball in the 93-97 mph range, though his stuff wasn’t where people expected earlier in the year. If draft boards didn’t change much after a few college games this season, there’s no reason to believe that Hancock isn’t high on the Orioles’ rankings this month.